Mis-Communicator of the Week: Ed Balls
10th December 2013
Earlier in my career I was an adviser to a succession of Shadow Chancellors. One of my tasks was to help them prepare to respond to what was then called the Pre-Budget Report. I'm not going to deny the fact that standing up in the House of Commons faced with a human wall of noise just two sword lengths away is one of the toughest places to deliver a speech. That though is why the preparation is so important - as it is for any speech.
In my day, when Gordon Brown was Chancellor, the opposition team were given the text of Brown's speech less than an hour before it was delivered in the House of Commons chamber. The problem being that all the major policy announcements and pieces of economic data were blacked out. Now things are a little bit easier with economic data being published by the Office of Budget Responsibility while the trend of pre-briefing policy announcements continues under this coalition government as it did under Labour.
It is a tough situation to be in so am I being harsh or even partisan as a former Conservative adviser to criticise Ed Balls? If we dissect his performance and content you will see why I think not.
Last year Mr Balls was unfairly criticised for his response as he made some small mistakes due to his stammer. As someone who needed speech therapy as a child this made me uncomfortable. This year the mistakes were all of his own making and the people uncomfortable with his performance were the Labour MPs sat behind him.
I have already said, Balls has a stammer which he manages to control. In a high-tension speech situation verbal foibles are prone to reappear for anyone but can be dampened down through building confidence by beginning well with a zinging opener that grabs attention, shuts up the opposition and perhaps summarises clearly your central argument. It is also good to use pauses to slow delivery, keep control and allow for your message to be heard. Balls didn't use either of these fundamentals of good speech delivery.
His key point was weak, he used gestures poorly, and he was overly long considering he had little to say, he rattled through his pre-prepared text as if he was delivering orders on the parade ground, his sound bites and key phrases were tired, and his close was as tepid as his opening. Finally, his delivery - shouting louder and louder - made him turn bright red which undermined his authority further.
That is why Ed Balls is my Mis-Communicator of the Week.
Communicator of the Week is written by Edward Staite